Catholics and Mental Illness (An Ongoing Series)–Spouse of Man with Bipolar I Disorder

A new post in our What’s Your Experience?  Series,  in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith.  In this post, Kate, the wife of a man with Bipolar I shares her experience with how priests, the Church, and her faith have been intertwined in the drama of her life.

My DH has been diagnosed in the past year with Bipolar I.  He is 42 years old and a cradle Catholic.  I am 39 and a convert to the Faith.  We have seven children that are homeschooled.  

 My husband’s first mental break occurred when he was an undergrad at Franciscan University in the early 90′s.  He relates the story that he was in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, alone, begging God for help.  A priest entered the chapel at the sounds of his pleas.  My husband begged him for help as well, anguished.  The priest called 911 and he was hospitalized for a week.  He then graduated and moved on, but he still talks about that day and that he wishes the priest would have just prayed with him.  

 Several years later, he was able to join the Army.  We met and married shortly after that.  We had many years of ups and downs along with infidelity.  We were married for 6 years when he sought help and was diagnosed with severe depression and put on a combination of Zoloft and Wellbutrin.  For several years, this was adequate to maintain him.  Through all this, he was able to earn two Master’s degrees and become an officer in the Army.  In February of 2012, things took a turn for the worse.  He was suicidal and homicidal.  His medicines were changed to include depakote and  Celexa, but he only spiraled further out of control.  He was hospitalized.  They continued the same drug regimen and he was sedated and restrained almost daily for the first week until they changed the meds to include Lamictal, naltrexone and Seroquel.  Through the help of a few close church friends and one priest, I was able to conceal this hospitalization from everyone, including the children.  After three and a half weeks, he was discharged on Good Friday.  From there, everything changed.  After a year long process, he was medically retired from the Army two weeks ago.  He still cycles, but not to the extremes as before.  I am hopeful that with medication, therapy and time, he will become more stable. 

 We have a lot of help from a few friends and our priest (who has since deployed overseas), but we are both embarrassed and feel the stigma of mental illness.  One of our fellow parishioners discovered his diagnosis and posted on Facebook a long discussion on how we shouldn’t ‘hide’ behind a diagnosis and he should just change.  Our priest, who was new to our parish, was aware and said nothing.

 Through it all, he remains faithful.  He remains hopeful that God will assist him.  Praying the Litany of the Hours gives him a schedule that he finds calming.  Even with the hectic life raising children, we try to at least say Evening Prayers together before bed.  I find solace in turning to the intercession of St Dympna and Our Blessed Mother.

 

The most difficult thing for me, as a woman of Faith, is my husband’s role as the head of our home.  When he cycles into mania or depression, I have to find the balance of taking care of things that he can’t without taking away from his role, and maintaining his authority with the children.  I consider myself a strong woman, but discovering myself over the years as a submissive wife and honoring my place in our covenant has been so rewarding.  That being said, I am trying to gracefully maintain the order of our home without the detriment to my DH.  How does one stay true to the vow to honor and obey when their spouse is in full blown mania?  

The Church, as all of society, has a long way to go in dealing with mental illness.  I don’t know what I expect or what should be done.  I do know that we should be able to sit in the pews on Sunday without feeling looked down upon or have our ideas/efforts dismissed because he is bipolar.  Priests have many responsibilities handed to them.  I think it is easier to deal with the visible problems because mental illness can be so hard to identify.  I am hoping and praying that now that we are done with military life, we will find employment and return to OH, where we have friends, relatives and priests that know us well and can give us support that we need.

 I look forward to looking into your readings on mental illness and continuing the discussion.  I just thought you might like to hear from someone like me.

 Blessings,  Kate

Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness?  What has your experience in the Church been like?   Share your story to help others.  I promise anonymity.  Please email me at gpopcak@CatholicCounselors.com

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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